Thursday, April 23, 2009

Shakespeare at 445

Today marks the 393rd anniversary of William Shakespeare's death, but I prefer to think of it as the 445th anniversary of his birth. The latter is now, apparently, the subject of scholarly dispute, as reliable records can only place his baptism on April 26, 1564; but I was always given 23 April as the date of both his death and birth, and I have always preferred to believe that he died like a rock star: painlessly yet somehow hilariously, amid birthday-inspired bacchanalia that would shock today's late night cable TV programmers.

To commemorate, I've begun watching BBC's lackluster but competent 1984 production of one of his least-celebrated plays, Coriolanus, which contains this small but illustrative instance of The Bard's peerless gifts:

VALERIA

O' my word, the father's son: I'll swear,'tis a
very pretty boy. O' my troth, I looked upon him o'
Wednesday half an hour together: has such a
confirmed countenance. I saw him run after a gilded
butterfly: and when he caught it, he let it go
again; and after it again; and over and over he
comes, and again; catched it again; or whether his
fall enraged him, or how 'twas, he did so set his
teeth and tear it; O, I warrant it, how he mammocked
it!

VOLUMNIA

One on 's father's moods.

VALERIA

Indeed, la, 'tis a noble child.

VIRGILIA

A crack, madam.

VALERIA

Come, lay aside your stitchery; I must have you play
the idle husewife with me this afternoon.

VIRGILIA

No, good madam; I will not out of doors.

VALERIA

Not out of doors!

VOLUMNIA

She shall, she shall.

VIRGILIA

Indeed, no, by your patience; I'll not over the
threshold till my lord return from the wars.

VALERIA

Fie, you confine yourself most unreasonably: come,
you must go visit the good lady that lies in.

VIRGILIA

I will wish her speedy strength, and visit her with
my prayers; but I cannot go thither.

VOLUMNIA

Why, I pray you?

VIRGILIA

'Tis not to save labour, nor that I want love.

VALERIA

You would be another Penelope: yet, they say, all
the yarn she spun in Ulysses' absence did but fill
Ithaca full of moths. Come; I would your cambric
were sensible as your finger, that you might leave
pricking it for pity. Come, you shall go with us.

VIRGILIA

No, good madam, pardon me; indeed, I will not forth.
It's a pretty good day's work for any poet to drop in an allusion to Homer to propel a significant establishing scene about an important character or two, and weave it all around a "gilded butterfly" (eventually torn with teeth) and an "Ithaca full of moths" (and a pricked finger). Flip the script indeed!

Shakespeare is as far from dead as anyone.

No comments: